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American AAdvantage gets a lot of love from miles and points enthusiasts. Maybe too much love.
They really like its generous Executive Platinum program for very frequent fliers that offers lucrative upgrades on cheap fares. And they like that international first and business class awards on partner airlines to Asia like Cathay Pacific are reasonably priced, and accessible if you know where to look.
But most of us don’t want to go to all the way to Asia on vacation.
Europe is the most popular long haul international destination for U.S. travelers, and most of the questions we get from readers here revolve around getting to Europe in Business Class with miles and points.
And nowhere is it harder to use points with American AAdvantage than getting to Europe in Business Class.
We just checked all of American’s flights to Europe next summer to see how stingy they have become with releasing coveted Business Class awards at the lowest advertised 100,000 mile price.
We could find no MileSAAver award seats for a pair of travelers at all next summer on American’s own flights.
Not from New York, Chicago, Dallas, or Miami. Not on any of American’s flights to Europe. Even traveling solo it’s almost impossible to find a seat unless you want to pay 220,000 miles or more roundtrip.
And the fall of 2015 is grim too, so it’s not just a case of lots of smart travelers grabbing seats early. American simply isn’t releasing seats in any meaningful or reliable quantity. Though if you want to fly to Milan on New Years’ Eve have at it.
AAdvantage miles are now without question the worst miles among U.S. carriers for getting to Europe in Business or First Class at a reasonable price.
Why is this happening?
While AAdvantage haven’t gone revenue based for earning miles in 2015 like Delta and United, it looks like it’s quietly devalued one of the most sought after parts of a frequent flier program – reasonable access to Business Class seats to Europe.
The writing was on the wall last year when American went to a 5 tier pricing structure, adding middle tiers between the previous MileSAAver and AAnytime awards. This is something US Airways had for years, and it let them get away with offering almost no Saver level seats on its most lucrative flights.
It also has the fewest routes to Europe of any U.S. carrier – Delta and United have them trounced on that front, so there are simply fewer seats to sell.
And American’s biggest partner British Airways releases plenty of ‘Saver’ level award seats, though they come with fuel surcharges of $1,000+. Yet there are enough members willing to pay the 100,000 mile ‘Saver’ price plus the $1,000 surcharge that American hasn’t had major defections.
What can you do?
There are a few options on Air Berlin and Iberia that get you to Europe without the nasty British Airways fuel surcharges. We have most of the options for routes that have no nasty fuel surcharges listed here.
But really if Europe in Business Class is your goal, it’s time to dump your loyalty to American.
United is a good alternative. While it’s pretty stingy about releasing award seats in Business Class on its own flights, it has a feature American lacks: the ability to waitlist if an award isn’t available. With United as long as a Saver Economy Class seat is available, you can waitlist for the Business Class seat at the cheap Saver price.
And that waitlist carries all the way to the airport on the day of departure, with the very highest priority. So you have a much better shot of ultimately scoring an award at a reasonable price. You can read our primer on how to leverage this benefit here.
It’s also running an unadvertised sale on partner award flights. One of the disadvantages of United is a high 140,000 mile roundtrip price for flights to Europe on partner airlines like Lufthansa, versus 115,000 miles on United’s own flights. But for the last several days they’ve eliminated that higher price via an unadvertised sale. So there are lots of Saver priced Business Class seats to Europe next summer at reasonable prices with United miles.
Delta is getting better. Many mile and point enthusiasts view Delta SkyMiles as having as much integrity as the 2014 Russian Ruble. But the reality is, sometimes it’s good to avoid the herd.
And next summer you’ll find a lot more award space to Europe in Business Class with Delta than you can with American (though with almost zero on American it’s hard not to beat).
Delta will allow one-way awards in 2015, and its new award calendar does a better job of showing partner options like Virgin Atlantic and Alitalia that can get you to Europe in the big seat for 125,000 miles. Below you’ll see amazing space from New York to London for 2 travelers next summer.
Grab a limited time 50k bonus on the Delta SkyMiles card now to start building your balance.
Are AAdvantage miles worthless?
There are many places they still have good value.
Partner flights to Asia are a great deal in First and Business Class, starting at just 50,000 miles one way. You can’t see these flights on American’s website, but if you use British Airways’ site BA.com to search for awards you’ll see the Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines options.
Business / First Class within the U.S. While not as exciting a value as international Business Class, there are still very good deals, like seats on American’s Flagship transcontinental service from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Flights to Australia. Qantas has lots of options in Economy Class at least to Australia for just 75,000 miles roundtrip, which is a great deal for tickets that are often $2,000 in cash.
Europe in Economy Class. There is still decent MileSAAver award availability in Economy Class to Europe for 40-60,000 miles, which can save you $1,500 or more.
But all in all we just don’t trust the direction AAdvantage has headed.
Our hope is they find they are being too conservative with award space and end up having to release more seats as we get closer to the summer. But even looking at close in dates right now, space is very limited and things don’t look good.
We cannot recommend AAdvantage miles for Business and First Class to Europe.
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